Brad Nailer vs Framing Nailer. Which One to Use?

Brad nailers, finish nail guns, framing nailers, pinner, palm nailers – oh my! If you are relatively new to DIY, you may be wondering why there are so many different kinds of nailers and how to choose the best option for your project. After all, isn’t a nail just a nail? It would certainly make the fastener section at big box stores a lot less exciting if that were the case.
Brad Nailer vs Framing nailer comparison
In this article, we are going to learn exactly why nailer type matters by taking a look at two very different tools: the brad nailer and the framing nailer.

Differences Between Brad Nailer and Framing Nailer

Other than the fact that they both propel sharp objects into other objects, these two tools have very little in common. They look different, use different sized nails, have completely different uses, and even have different magazine angles (the part of the nailer you load your nails into). The following sections cover these differences.

Brad Nailer

A brad nailer is generally used for light-duty projects such as installing fragile, decorative trim work, securing very thin boards, building picture frames or other types of crafting, or temporarily holding a bond between two glued pieces while allowing the glue to set.
Woman using Pneumatic Brad Nailer
Brad nails are very thin and wire-like and do not provide much structural support to a project, so a brad nailer is best used when only a light hold will do. However, thanks to the shape of the nail and the mere pinhole openings they create on wood surfaces, an operator generally does not have to use filler in the tiny divots created by the nail, which is why brad nailers are great to have around. It also means that brad nailers are less expensive than other nail guns because they require less power to propel such a small nail.

Framing Nailer

The term “framing nailer” is a bit more self-explanatory than that of “brad nailer”, and as you might have guessed, a framing nail gun is used most often for framing and other heavy-duty construction projects where the true structural strength of the bond matters and where larger dimensional lumber pieces will be used, such as 2×4’s.
Carpenter using Framing Nailer
Framing nail guns come in a wide range of options to suit the different nail collations, magazine angles, and nail-head types, but all of them use a nail much larger and sturdier than brad nails.

We will discuss what the nailer angle means in more detail, later in the article. But first, let’s compare the nail sizes.

Brad Nailer Framing Nailer
Use thin 18-gauge nails. Larger sized nails (11G to 4G)
0.0475-inches in diameter 0.12” to 0.235” in diameter.
T-shaped nail heads Full round or clipped head.
Straight magazine Angled magazine
Uses: Mainly used for light duty decorative trims, fine woodworking, cabinetry, to hold the pieces together for gluing etc. Uses: Designed for heavy-duty structural applications such as framing where the strength of the nail joint is important.

Brad Nail vs Framing Nails

Brad Nail Size

A major reason a brad nailer is restricted to light-duty projects is due in large part to the size of the nail used: 18-gauge nails (0.0475 inches in shank diameter) ranging in length from ½ inch to 2 ½ inches.
18 Gauge Brad Nails

These very thin nails are really more like strands of wire as they are very easily bent and flexible and also easy to remove. Their design makes them very difficult to hammer in by hand, but a brad nail gun can typically handle the job without any issue, as long as the material you are joining is amenable to the nail gauge and length you are using.

Framing Nail Sizes

When it comes to framing nails, you will likely choose your nailer based on the type of nail you need to use for your projects.
Two strips of framing nails

The shank diameter of framing nails ranges from 0.12-inches to 0.235 inches (11 gauge to 4 gauge). The length of the nails varies from 2 inches to 6 inches. However, it is rare that you will those extreme sizes.

The commonly used 8d nail has a length of 2 ½ inches and a diameter of 0.134 inches. You can find the length and diameter of the other commonly used nail sizes here.

Keep in mind that some projects require certain nail-head types per local codes.

Can You Use Brad Nails in a Framing Nailer?

You cannot use brad nails in a framing nailer, nor can you use framing nails in a brad nailer.

I know what you’re thinking: if it’s a smaller nail, it should fit, right? But smaller nails do not automatically have the ability to be used in a nailer meant for larger nails. When you load smaller size nails in a larger nail gun, it will have much more clearance in the nozzle and the larger piston blade will push more than one nail at a time. This will result in severe nail jams.

To use a nailer with a gauge of nail not specified by the tool manufacturer as being compatible with the tool will either break your tool, break your project, or may cause injury to you. It is not something you should try.

Nailer Angle

Brad nailers only come with straight magazines. In other words, the nails are positioned exactly parallel to the barrel of the nail gun (perpendicular to drive piston and nozzle).

This provides slightly less flexibility and reach than angled framing nail guns when it comes to working in tight or awkward spaces, like corners.

Framing nailers, however, come in a variety of angles with the most common types being 21°, 28°, and 30-to-34-degree magazines. This means that the magazine is positioned at the angle specified from the piston axis which is perpendicular to the barrel.

The difference in the angle not only determines the types of nails that can be used with the nailer but also determines the number of nails that will fit in the magazine at one time and where you might be able to use the nail gun. The greater the angle, the easier it is to fit the nailer into tight or awkward spaces.

  1. The 21-Degree framing nailers uses full-round head nails that are fastened together with a plastic clip. Each clip holds approximately 60 nails that are positioned at 21 degrees.
  2. A 28-degree framing nailer can use either clipped, off-set, or full-round head nails that are fastened together using wire and which hold around 100 nails at a 28-degree angle. The nailer magazine can generally hold two clips.
  3. The 30- to 34-degree framing nailers can use clipped or full-round head nails that are held together using paper collation. The magazine is really long and can generally hold two strips with a total capacity of up to 160 nails.
  4. There is also 15° coil nailer that has a round canister instead of a flat magazine. It works with wire collated coil nails that can hold up to 200 nails which greatly reduced the time to reload.

Can You Use Brad Nails for Framing?

It is not recommended to use brad nails for framing. As I explained, brad nails are thin 18-gauge nails that are not designed to be used in structural framing projects. I suppose you can always try brads instead of finish nailers when working on a personal project, but not for framing.

You also need to be aware that you are likely going to be doing something that will not be up to building code while also framing something unstable. It is important to use the correct nail length and gauge for any framing project you take on. It’s always best to do things the right way the first time.